Acute Care Edinburgh

Whole genome sequencing reveals host factors underlying critical Covid-19

A large international study has found that specific variations in DNA are associated with patients developing the most severe form of Covid-19.

DNA Variations Offer New Insights into Severe Covid-19 Risk

Factors such as smoking and high body mass index also cause patients to suffer from acute Covid-19. The findings partially explain why some people become seriously ill with Covid-19 and could provide targets for future therapies using repurposed drugs.

International collaboration

Scientists compared genetic information from almost 50,000 Covid-19 patients with that of samples provided by healthy volunteers from biobanks, clinical studies, and direct-to-consumer genetic companies such as 23andMe.

The study identified 13 DNA variations associated with people developing the most severe form of Covid-19. These genes help explain why some people become very ill with Covid-19, while others are not affected.

By pooling large amounts of data from 25 countries, scientists in the global collaboration were able to produce robust analyses more quickly, and from a greater diversity of populations, than any one group could have done on its own.

The study was led by the Covid-19 Host Genetics Initiative, a collaboration involving more than 3,300 researchers and 61 studies from 25 countries.

Our latest findings point to specific molecular targets in critical Covid-19. These results explain why some people develop life-threatening Covid-19, while others get no symptoms at all. But more importantly, this gives us a deep understanding of the process of disease and is a big step forward in finding more effective treatments. It is now true to say that we understand the mechanisms of Covid better than the other syndromes we treat in intensive care in normal times – sepsis, flu, and other forms of critical illness. Covid-19 is showing us the way to tackle those problems in the future.

Professor Kenneth BaillieChief Investigator, GenOMICCs Consortium

Read the Nature paper

Read the UoE News Story